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Climate Change: Myths Debunked


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#1 Gefiltefishmon

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Posted 25 December 2004 - 07:47 PM

I see on Exisle and any number of other boards, posters frequently point to a chilly spell or unusual snowfall and say: "What Global Warming?!". Just today I was tlaking with someone who pointed out that they had a record low temp last few days where he lives and said there can't be any global warming if this kind of even was occuring. This is both disengenuous and fallacious. Disengenuous because Global warming deals with Climate not Weather and fallacious because even the Gobi Desert has cold spells.

Some Data:

Quote

From BBC News
Climate changes such as global warming may be due to changes in the sun rather than to the release of greenhouse gases on Earth.

Climatologists and astronomers speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Philadelphia say the present warming may be unusual - but a mini ice age could soon follow.

The sun provides all the energy that drives our climate, but it is not the constant star it might seem.

Careful studies over the last 20 years show that its overall brightness and energy output increases slightly as sunspot activity rises to the peak of its 11-year cycle.

And individual cycles can be more or less active.

The sun is currently at its most active for 300 years.

That, say scientists in Philadelphia, could be a more significant cause of global warming than the emissions of greenhouse gases that are most often blamed.

The researchers point out that much of the half-a-degree rise in global temperature over the last 120 years occurred before 1940 - earlier than the biggest rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Ancient trees reveal most warm spells are caused by the sun
Using ancient tree rings, they show that 17 out of 19 warm spells in the last 10,000 years coincided with peaks in solar activity.

They have also studied other sun-like stars and found that they spend significant periods without sunspots at all, so perhaps cool spells should be feared more than global warming.

The scientists do not pretend they can explain everything, nor do they say that attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be abandoned. But they do feel that understanding of our nearest star must be increased if the climate is to be understood.

Quote

The greenhouse effect is actually essential to our existence: The sun warms the earth, and certain gases (including carbon dioxide and water vapor) act like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat and keeping the planet’s surface warm enough to support life. However, measuring humanity’s effect on the concentration of greenhouse gases is a key issue in understanding global climate change. Industry and other human activity add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This strengthens the greenhouse effect and may cause a significant warming trend.

Understanding how the atmosphere works is fundamental to understanding climate change. The atmosphere is composed of layers of air, each with its own temperature patterns. Researchers must determine whether changes in temperature or air circulation are part of complex, longer-term cycles. And the interconnections between air, sea, and land mean that any change could have multiple causes—and multiple effects.

The Images below show a lot of interesting things - The change in the depth of Vostok Ice cores, Global Average Glacier Erosion, the dates of oak leafing in New England for the last 200+ years, A map of predicted and actual rainfall changes based on the climatic change model (very close predictions), and a map showing the greening of the Northern Hemisphere - but the most interesting graphic is the one which shows Solar activity against climate.

Quote

From the NASA/NOAA Global Climate Change Explorer

Space weather may also in the long term affect the Earth's climate. Solar ultra-violet, visible and heat radiation are the primary factors for the Earth's climate, including global average temperatures, and these energy sources appear to be quite constant. However, many scientists have observed corrrelations between the solar magnetic activity, which is reflected in the sunspot frequency, and climate parameters at the Earth. Sunspots has been recorded through several hundreds of years which makes it possible to compare their variable frequency to climate variations to the extent that reliable climatological records exists. One of the most striking comparisons was published by E. Friis-Christensen og K. Lassen, DMI, in "Science" in 1991. In their work they compared the average temperature at the northern hemisphere with the average solar activity defined through the interval between successive sunspot maxima. The more active the sun - the shorter the interval: the solar cycle runs more intense. 

The red curve illustrates the solar activity, which is generally increasing through an interval of 100 years, since the cycle length has decreased from around 11.5 years to less than 10 years. Within the same interval the Earth's average temperature as indicated by the blue curve has increased by approximately 0.7 degree C. Even the finer structures in the two curves have similar appearances.
(Reference: Friis-Christensen, E., and K. Lassen, Length of the solar cycle: An indicator of solar activity closely associated with climate, Science, 254, 698-700, 1991).

So what does it all mean? Well, an increase in global Climate Temp may not mean it's hotter for everyone. For example, Continental Europe (and the UK) enjoy the weather they do because of the course of the Gulf Stream, an increase in global climate temp would make Europe Colder, not Warmer - West texas would become wetter and colder while places like Wisconsin would be drier and hotter; Global Warming doesn't mean everyplace all the time.

But, I'm liking the sun correlation, nice [relatively] clean data takes - and we Statisticians love clean sets... Makes for nicer Multi-Dimensional Sims.

So...
Global warming: Real and Present Danger
Cause: UNKNOWN, further research required, too many factors.

Attached Images

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Edited by Gefiltefishmon, 25 December 2004 - 08:03 PM.

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#2 Jazzer

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Posted 25 December 2004 - 11:21 PM

Ok, this may sound a bit picky.  You said in your opening paragraph: "Global warming deals with Climate not Weather".  

But here is a dictionary definition of climate:  
"the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions (italics mine) of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years."  

I am simply posing questions here for thought:  

Another question that comes to mind is how long does a trend of climate have to be before we can uneqivocally declare there is indeed global _______ (fill in the blank).  Or put another way, how long does a trend have to continue before it can be declared global warming or global cooling or whatever?  

I have to admit I've never understood why some people seem to act as if there should be no shifts in climate, when the history of the earth shows many patterns of change in climate over time.  The reason I make that comment is that sometimes in the news when some item about changes in weather or climate is mentioned, that seems to be the attitude of some, as if they were shocked to realize that climate may be changing.  

The data you were pointing to would seem to indicate that the causes of global warming, if we are indeed firmly entrenched in such a climate trend, are more complex than many had realized.  If it turns out that the sun is indeed the main culprit, I don't see that there's anything we can do to change that.  All we could do is whatever we can here to try to prepare and protect ourselves.  

I would agree that trying to cut down on pollutants in the environment (land, water, air) is wise in the long run for many reasons.
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#3 Gefiltefishmon

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 12:22 AM

It's not being picky at all - in fact, the definition you posted reinforces what I was saying...

Quote

"the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions (italics mine) of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years."

I bolded the important bits - you see that the definition of Climate, while it contains weather, is NOT weather but a long series of data taken of a period of years of weather data. Eh, semantics :rolleyes:

Anyway - yeah looks like the sun may be more to blame than anyone thought - and I'm still not convinced that our actions are making a difference - I do agree that LESS pollutants is better than more, and we really need to limit greenhouse gasses so as to not exacerbate any natural tendencies already extant in our solar phenomena.

And so many people deny it for the same reasons they do everything else in their lives the same way - deny change. A very wise man once said that only an idiot tries to ride a horse against the direction it's going in; well I've never shied from calling somone an idiot, so I guess I'll say that people who are still not comprehending the FACT that the climate is changing are idiots, (IMHO, Of course)but that may be a bit extreme - not wanting to offend anyone. Global Climate Change IS happening, we can prove it's happening and only an idiot  :p (see there I go again) would deny it, usually for some short term profit to be made by some petro-chemical outfit somewhere. Or plain old political greed - pick one.

Fact is, it's happening.

It's kind of like Evolution, which to some people is still just a "theory" even though it's been conclusively proven to the satisfaction of 99.999999999999% of the scientific community. Some people will always resist the truth, for they are happier in their ignorance.

Wow, thread-jacked my own thread. BAD gefi BAD BAD BAD!!!!

:p
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#4 Mr.Calgary

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 12:54 AM

My perspective,  :blush:

The climate is --always-- changing.  We have to adapt to it.  Control it???? :blink:

As stated, one of the keys factors on our planet would be that massive nuclear reaction that we have zero control over.....the sun.

The hysteria over "global warming" essentially has nothing to do with climate.  It's just another means for 'folks' to exert control over our lives.

In the space of 25 years, we went from the extreme of the coming ice age to the more profitable product of extreme global warming.  

Kyoto is junk.  It's been proven, (the "hockey stick" for instance has been shown for the error it is) but like that tidbit would matter to the believers.

Last year, we visited a new home just south of Calgary.  Some very modest solar panels and the means to store the power in the basement.  I would not have any qualms about requiring all new home construction to make use of this advantage.  No extreme measures involved.  

Why not,  having some independance from the power grid is a good idea, among other benefits.

(edit to replace some language)

Edited by Mr.Calgary, 26 December 2004 - 05:40 PM.

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#5 Christopher

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 10:16 AM

Folks, if this is going to become a thread in which people hurl polemics about how stupid and corrupt the other side is, then I'm kicking it to OT where such petty mudslinging belongs.  If you want this to be an EtU thread, then stick to the science and leave the baiting out of it.

Edited by Christopher, 26 December 2004 - 10:18 AM.

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#6 G-man

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 12:05 PM

Out of curiousity,

It has been established in the geologic record that (IIRC) every million years there is a polar shift in Earth's Magnetic field.  How would this effect the climate?

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#7 Delvo

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 12:47 PM

The orientation of the magnetic field isn't thought to influence the climate. The reason why the South Pole is colder than the North Pole is because of the way the distribution of the continents influences wind patterns; winds mix into and out of the North Pole region but go around the South Pole region in more of a circle, cutting it off from warmer regions.

Edited by Delvo, 26 December 2004 - 12:48 PM.


#8 Chakotay

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 03:19 PM

Okay, so it's climate change.

Maybe it is natural cycles, but man is having some impact on the speed of the change, and we're so numerous that we're also the one's being affected, with floods, droughts, increasing deserts.

If we hadn't invented the internal combustion engine, if we weren't so populous we're cutting down the rainforests, maybe thing's wouldn't be moving quite so quickly?
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#9 Gefiltefishmon

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 05:51 PM

Quote

G-Man
Out of curiousity,

It has been established in the geologic record that (IIRC) every million years there is a polar shift in Earth's Magnetic field. How would this effect the climate?

Hmmm Dunno. I read somewhere that there may have been an accompanying drastic tectonic shift of continents but can't remember where that was...

Quote

Maybe it is natural cycles, but man is having some impact on the speed of the change, and we're so numerous that we're also the one's being affected, with floods, droughts, increasing deserts.

If we hadn't invented the internal combustion engine, if we weren't so populous we're cutting down the rainforests, maybe thing's wouldn't be moving quite so quickly?

I agree that we are contributing to the rate of change with our dangerous environmental policies - but here is where I get the cold shoulder from environmentalists - and the solution is Science! (technology, materials science, environmental science and yes even [horror!]genetic engineering/modification. With hardier more productive crops we can feed more people with less land and leave undeveloped ares undeveloped - we shouldn't be trying to find every drop of oil on the planet but trying to find different sources of energy. A few years ago Bush promised "over a Billion dollars" in alternative fuels research - which is being cut completely out of his new "leaner meaner budget", the blogosphere predicts. In 2004 the 12 largest Oil companies spent $98.4 Billion on Exploration alone.....

We have solutions to a lot of these problems and science provides them, however the holistic, touchy-feely "I Love Nature" approach is best used in keeping our hands off of things rather than "going Simpler" - Through making ourselves more productive with what we have, we wont need more, but as long as more is cheaper than better, well, you know where that gets us. Where we are now.

It's possible to be environmentally friendly without sacrificing too much - but it means having to accept that [IMHO] science and technology are the only solutions.

Edited by Gefiltefishmon, 26 December 2004 - 05:51 PM.

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"A 'politically savvy challenge to evolution' is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be." - Charles Pierce

#10 Jazzer

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 06:41 PM

Christopher, on Dec 26 2004, 10:16 AM, said:

Folks, if this is going to become a thread in which people hurl polemics about how stupid and corrupt the other side is, then I'm kicking it to OT where such petty mudslinging belongs.  If you want this to be an EtU thread, then stick to the science and leave the baiting out of it.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, now I understand why a similar thread going on in OT now hasn't been  merged with this one.  The related thread in OT has been getting pretty "heated", if you'll pardon the pun.  

Personally, I'd rather just discuss the science than the politics of this topic.  

I'm not totally convinced that we are firmly entrenched in "global warming", but on the other hand I'm not close-minded to the possibility either.  I'm simply inclined to wait and see what the climate does over time before I feel sure we really are in global warming, without any doubts.  

As I mentioned in some of my questions in my earlier post in this thread, I was wondering how long does a trend have to last or be detected before "someone" makes an official declaration that we are indeed in the midst of global ______ (fill in the blank) - whatever major climate change seems to be happening.  

Does a trend have to last for a decade, a few decades, 50 years, a 100 years, several hundred years, or a 1000, or how long, to be declared as official global _______ (whatever) in the context of the history of the planet?  I'm not asking to be contentious.  I'm just curious as to what criteria are used, and for what period of time, to officially define when the planet is in global warming or an ice age or whatever.
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#11 Delvo

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 08:11 PM

The trouble is that there is no such official determiner, and if there were, we probably couldn't use it anyway because we don't have the data for it. Parts of the world still don't have much scientific recording of weather information going on, and much of it that does didn't until the last few decades. Even the major population centers in scientificly advanced countries didn't have anything like modern weather reporting just a century ago. On top of that, there's the trouble with trying to make sense of what we do have; it's not even solid that temperatures are rising overall, and we've got issues like the contradictions between ground-based and satellite-based sensors that are supposed to be trying to read the same things. It's really not even certain that there's an uptrend in temperature at all, nevermind whether it's intense enough or long-lasting enough to be serious.

Also, an answer to your question would depend somewhat on the person asking it partially answering it by defining what scale (s)he's talking on in the first place. There was an event for a few hundred years in Europe's mid-late Middle Ages called a/the "Mini Ice Age". Europe and the northern Atlantic Ocean got somewhat colder than it was before or has been since then, but not as cold as what most people would call the "real" Ice Age that ended several thousand years ago, and it only lasted a few centuries instead of on the order of a dozen millennia. And even that colder, longer Ice Age was one in a series of them that have come and gone in the last few million years, some longer and colder than it, the whole set of which represents a very long, very deep downturn compared to previous multi-million-year spans in which ice ages didn't happen, so you could call the whole thing an Ice Super-Age. So, the longer and more drastic of a "trend" you're looking for, the longer and more drastic of a set of changes you need to observe to say you've got it. What constitutes a good indicator of a drought that will go on for several years doesn't consittute an indivator that it will go on for ten, or that the place will become a desert.

(I switched from ice ages to "drought" because I recently lived in a place that had been in a "drought" for 3 or 4 years, depending on how you define when it began, and predictions for how much longer it would go on varied, but some people no longer called it a drought and compared it to "normal", but speculated that it might be a new "normal". It turned out that they must have been overreacting because it ended in the last year or two... unless they're still in that new, drier climate and have been all along, and the last year or two has just been an abnormally wet time in that new dry normal...)

#12 Chakotay

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Posted 27 December 2004 - 04:17 AM

Much as we'd like to keep politics out of this and concentrate on science, it is big business and government who determine just how much alternate fuels get researched and promoted.

One thing that might move things along is all the industrial countries pass legislation to outlaw fossil fuel burning within, say, fifteen years. That might concentrate the minds of research and development units nicely.  But there'd also be a massive outcry from the petrolheads who don't want to give up their SUVs, and the farming lobby who can't imagine life without a diesel burning tractor, etc etc etc.

I guess it's down to the individual to make a choice for the planet and stick with it despite ridicule and difficulties.
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#13 Lea

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Posted 28 December 2004 - 08:36 AM

Gefiltefishmon, on Dec 26 2004, 07:22 AM, said:

I do agree that LESS pollutants is better than more, and we really need to limit greenhouse gasses so as to not exacerbate any natural tendencies already extant in our solar phenomena.

I very much agree.

IMHO the discussions about whether the global warming exists or not, tend to deal with linguistics - i.e. can the process be called global, can the process be called warming - and when it's found that the name is wrong, then by elegant trick it's used to prove that the process doesn't exist. :dontgetit:

Unfortunately the countries which use the most fossil fuels and get the benefit from it are not the same which will suffer the most in consequences. Countries which depend on agriculture should suffer the most in climate change.

cui bono

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Edited by Lea, 28 December 2004 - 08:38 AM.

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#14 Jid

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Posted 29 December 2004 - 03:55 PM

In no particular order of quotations.

Delvo, on Dec 26 2004, 06:11 PM, said:

The trouble is that there is no such official determiner, and if there were, we probably couldn't use it anyway because we don't have the data for it. Parts of the world still don't have much scientific recording of weather information going on, and much of it that does didn't until the last few decades. Even the major population centers in scientificly advanced countries didn't have anything like modern weather reporting just a century ago. On top of that, there's the trouble with trying to make sense of what we do have; it's not even solid that temperatures are rising overall, and we've got issues like the contradictions between ground-based and satellite-based sensors that are supposed to be trying to read the same things. It's really not even certain that there's an uptrend in temperature at all, nevermind whether it's intense enough or long-lasting enough to be serious.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Well, yes and no.  Part of the problem with any debate on climate change/other buzzworded phenomenon is that like any physical system, the earth's overall climate/weather systems are not only horrendously complex, but naturally have one could call a certain amount of "give" to them.  (By analogy, when I say "give," picture pushing a cart up the slope of a steep hill.  So long as you're on the slope, if you let go of the cart, it will eventually end up back where it started, but if you hit a plateau, then you have to "push" to get it to go back, rather than just stop your current activity.  One of the big debates is where, and when, this plateau will be hit, or if we already have.)

On average, most scientists without a major agenda (harder and harder to find outside of, and ever increasingly alarmingly in academia) will agree North American data points to an upswing in average temperature over the past two centuries, with faster changes occuring after the industrial revolution.

The contentious issue I find in most peer reviewed publications on the matter is not if there is a change happening, but rather how much will continue to happen given a wide variety of assumed factors - the dangers of modelling, but alas, such models are the only real tools we have.  The most generous models predict an average increase of 0.5 Celsius in the next 50-100, the least generous, nearly ten times that figure.

Jazzergold, on Dec 26 2004, 04:41 PM, said:

As I mentioned in some of my questions in my earlier post in this thread, I was wondering how long does a trend have to last or be detected before "someone" makes an official declaration that we are indeed in the midst of global ______ (fill in the blank) - whatever major climate change seems to be happening. 

Does a trend have to last for a decade, a few decades, 50 years, a 100 years, several hundred years, or a 1000, or how long, to be declared as official global _______ (whatever) in the context of the history of the planet?  I'm not asking to be contentious.  I'm just curious as to what criteria are used, and for what period of time, to officially define when the planet is in global warming or an ice age or whatever.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


As a complete non-sequitur, one of the most interesting possible outcomes of sustained global warming could be the beginning of the next ice age.

But to actually try to answer - no one wants to make an official declaration of "global _______" because really, it's a new field.  We can point to indications of such changes, which correlate well with things such as the rising levels of greenhouse gases and notable weather phenomena.

I think the feeling of most people interested in the field may not be the declaration of "official" status of some major global climate change, but rather, in not waiting to find out if we can get to the official area.  With the slowness of development of fast and efficient travel to earth-like planets we've not even found yet, it seems prudent that we do our best to maintain the planet rather than recklessly use its ultimately limited resources before we have a solution for what we do when our current favourite resources run out.

Gefiltefishmon, on Dec 26 2004, 03:51 PM, said:

I agree that we are contributing to the rate of change with our dangerous environmental policies - but here is where I get the cold shoulder from environmentalists - and the solution is Science! (technology, materials science, environmental science and yes even [horror!]genetic engineering/modification.

No offense, but I think you haven't been talking to the right environmentalists ;)  Setting aside the contentious issue of GMOs for now, as it's an issue unto itself, most reasonable folks will agree that the solution is not to make a drastic decrease to our standards of living, but rather to change how we do things to lessen our impact.

Chief among the changes I often see proposed is first directing the economic engine towards a more environmentally friendly mode of operating.  Most economics seems to assume that we have limitless ability to increase consumption and use, and indeed, that's what our markets thrive upon.  The problem is, we're beginning to learn, more and more, that we're going to be running into those limits in the near(ish) future, and that not only will we suffer possible environmental impacts, but major economic impacts as well.

Since the almighty dollar rules the roost no matter how you look at things, the sooner the economy were to turn towards rewarding environmental prudence, the sooner we'd be likely to see major scientific advancement in environmental areas.

Quote

It's possible to be environmentally friendly without sacrificing too much - but it means having to accept that [IMHO] science and technology are the only solutions.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


No argument from me - save perhaps that discounting other solutions which are good stopgaps until science and technology can play catchup seems, at best, reckless.  Simple solutions do work, though I guess it does depend on one's opinion of what constitutes a 'sacrifice'.

#15 Gefiltefishmon

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Posted 30 December 2004 - 10:43 PM

Thanks JID - Great post!

JID

Quote

No offense, but I think you haven't been talking to the right environmentalists  Setting aside the contentious issue of GMOs for now, as it's an issue unto itself, most reasonable folks will agree that the solution is not to make a drastic decrease to our standards of living, but rather to change how we do things to lessen our impact.

Chief among the changes I often see proposed is first directing the economic engine towards a more environmentally friendly mode of operating. Most economics seems to assume that we have limitless ability to increase consumption and use, and indeed, that's what our markets thrive upon. The problem is, we're beginning to learn, more and more, that we're going to be running into those limits in the near(ish) future, and that not only will we suffer possible environmental impacts, but major economic impacts as well.

Since the almighty dollar rules the roost no matter how you look at things, the sooner the economy were to turn towards rewarding environmental prudence, the sooner we'd be likely to see major scientific advancement in environmental areas.

Probably. Most enviro's I talk to start to get apoplectic and spittle begins to fly the moment I even Hint that GMO's might be a good thing - most of the ones I am associated with are so well programmed byt the great liberal/Environmental propaganda machine that they can't even discuss the topic. We are ALREADY using Genetically Modified crops - if we weren't Africa would die and most other countries would be starving - maybe they weren't modified in a lab via genetic manipulation but they have been selected, cross-bred and hybridized beyond any natural evolution. That has to be acknowledged before any rational discussion of GMO can begin.

Through GMO farmers in developing countries can grow enough crop to survive without having to clear acres of rainforest to make a living

Through GMO interim renewable fuel sources could be developed while HO fuels undergo long term sustainability efforts - and cars can easily be converted to burn ethanol prior to the big HO switchover.

Through GMO, tailored micro-organisms can be developed to interlock with existing biosystems and provide - to specifically designed GMO's - the materials which the second group concentrates [ this is a concept where an entire biome of organisms is designed to stamp out a particular environmental challenge - say heavy metal in the water table - through the use of a designed biome you would start with bacteria and work up to trees which produce fruit loaded with the thing you do not want in the environment anymore - harvest the fruit and remove the pollutant from the biome].

IMHO, to my way of thinking, science is the answer to these problems not the cause - Remember I went to Grad School (one year at least) at Berkeley, and had to put up with endless - ENDLESS - enviro protests against "frankenfoods" and such nonsense - fear tactics which, I might point out, the Left loves to accuse the Right of using (a la Dick Cheney's "A vote for them is a vote for terrorism to strike here" *)but are not above using themselves when a pet is threatened. Being a complete and total Liberal - as I :alien:  am - I'm kind of disgusted with this behaviour.

Sounds like you are familiar with a lot more level headed and open minded enviro's than I am! :D


*BTW I know that's not an accurate quote of what the Anti-Christs' henchman actually said - I'm just trying to be illustrative - and calling him the Anti-Christs' Henchman is my own personal way of saying "Hi dick, how's the wife and kids?" not that he is actually the Anti-Christs henchman - which, maybe he is and maybe he isn't but I'm just saying is all.......

Hey I'm old and cranky! :devil:
"To know that you do not know is the best. To act from the pretense that you know when you do not know is a disease" - Lao Tzu

"From All, One; and From One, All" - Heraclitus

"Let me be clear: however the world's goblet turns there will always be those drunk on the wine of the Self" - Ghalib

"A 'politically savvy challenge to evolution' is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be." - Charles Pierce

#16 Orpheus

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Posted 31 December 2004 - 02:42 PM

I've done a bit of genetic modification in my time, and I'll admit that the thought of releasing such organisms into the environment makes me queasy. We're not ready to predict the consequences -- by several orders of magnitude, especially not given the various means of genetic absorption and transfer in the native microbial world.

Still, we have to face the fact that we have always lived in a universe of uncontrolled genetic experimentation far beyond any scale Man can imagine [and I don't just mean the kind that produces the likes of me]. The entire planet is coated (and filled to a considerable crustal depth) with a gargantual random reassortment of genetic material between species. Essentially all our foods are the result of controlled genetic manipulation: the same basic plant stock has been bred into broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage and at least a dozen other locally developed vegetables.  The modern cow is substantially unlike anything that was ever found in the wild.

No one has ever done a complete chemical analysis of any food --nor is one necessary. We evolved eating what microbiologists would call "an undefined medium", and one that has been constantly spontaneously changing, at that. That's why hardly a week passes without some researcher finding potential carcinogens -and anti carcinogenic properties- in ordinary groceries.

The unstated impression that we live in a static defined world, and that Man plays an overweening role in it is just a vain aggrandizement. We often say that atomic wepons give us the capability to destroy life on Earth many times over, but that is the most grotesque exaggeration. A single large thunderstorm has the energy equivalent of (on the rough order of) 100,000 nuclear weapons, and there have been several such storms on our planet at every instant since the dawn of life. Radioactivity? Bah. Where do you think we get our uranium: we dig out an unimaginably tiny speck out of the very surface of the Earth's crust. If we scatter it back over the surface of the Earth the change in background radiation would be negligible. Heck, studies have shown that low level increases in radiation actually improve health and robustness in (e.g.) chimpanzees. [I'm not advocating it as a health treatment: undoubtedly a small fraction would die prematurely from tumors, etc.; the studies were far too small to assess the long term effects in a large population]

In my book, our use of genetic engineering is -at best- at the technological stage of radioactivity around the turn of the 20th century, when dangerous levels of radiation and isotopes were used for everything from shoe-store sizing to health belts and tonics. Pretty stupid in hindsight, but with negligible overall effect on mankind.

Yes, we might breed a plague. It's a statistical certainty that many will breed on their own (count the epidemics and pandemics from "new" diseases in your own lifetime). Who says mankind was meant to last? We are still fighting the same Darwinian battle in an unimaginably complex ecology as we were when "cell nuclei" were the latest thing. That we exist now doesn't make us better than the countless grand species that lived longer than the entire primate line, then passed; it is mere hubris to imagine that we can consciously determine our eventual fate -- yet (if ever).  

Actually, we have no more genuine interest in, duty toward, or capacity to protect our distant progeny than the Leakey's Lucy had toward us. It's an abstraction that sounds good --I find it emotionally compelling, myself-- but in reality it is so far beyond our capacity for genuine concern (Enjoying your Christmas presents, are you? How many people are  starving in the world today) or genuine action. It's as meaningless for us as it would be for a mushroom. It's self-aggrandizement

Please don't misread me. I'm not mocking anyone. (And, as many of you know,  my strong childhood interest in Objectivism leaves me with a healthy disdain for the myth and illusion that is conventional altruism) I'm just trying to inject a different, perhaps more globally objective, view.

I'm not saying that it is misguided to have a due concern for the welfare of the human species -- but our efforst will almost inevitably be misguided and largely wasted unless we devote immense effort to dutifully amd diligently weighing all the real risks. How else can we expect to make the right choices. I've always been amazed that more activists don't have a thorough grounding in science -- what else could serve their cause better. Genuine, trained ecologists are often impassioned activists, but the converse is hardly as true.

#17 Christopher

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Posted 31 December 2004 - 04:10 PM

Orpheus, on Dec 31 2004, 02:42 PM, said:

We often say that atomic wepons give us the capability to destroy life on Earth many times over, but that is the most grotesque exaggeration. A single large thunderstorm has the energy equivalent of (on the rough order of) 100,000 nuclear weapons, and there have been several such storms on our planet at every instant since the dawn of life.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


First of all, your numbers are way, way off.  My Googling indicates that a typical thunderstorm only contains the equivalent of 20 kilotons of energy, while a large one can be around 350 kt:

http://www.weatherqu...understorms.htm

http://64.233.161.10...l=en&lr=lang_en

So a typical thunderstorm contains about as much energy as the Nagasaki bomb or a tactical nuke, and even a really huge thunderstorm only has as much energy as one of the eight warheads in a Trident II missile:

http://en.wikipedia..../Nuclear_weapon

Also, most of that energy is dissipated into the air; cloud-to-cloud lightning is by far the most common kind.  If all the energy of a thunderstorm were directed at a single ground target at a single time, it would cause vastly more destruction.  The mass extinction resulting from a nuclear war would result from the nuclear winter which would occur when massive amounts of dust and smoke blown up from the ground filled the stratosphere and darkened the sky.  Also the radioactive fallout -- material from a ground target made radioactive by the explosion and diffused into the air -- would have widespread toxic effects.  A thunderstorm is more comparable to a high-altitude explosion, whose only major surface effect is EMP, except that a thunderstorm's energy is released far more gradually.  The key here isn't just the total amount of energy released, it's how quickly it's released and where it's directed.

Maybe you're thinking of the thunderstorms on Jupiter or Saturn.  It was recently reported that Saturnian lightning is a million times as powerful as Terrestrial lightning.  Or maybe you misremembered "100 kilotons" as "100,000 nuclear weapons."

Edited by Christopher, 31 December 2004 - 04:12 PM.

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#18 Gefiltefishmon

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Posted 31 December 2004 - 04:27 PM

Quote

Orpheus
I'm not saying that it is misguided to have a due concern for the welfare of the human species -- but our efforst will almost inevitably be misguided and largely wasted unless we devote immense effort to dutifully amd diligently weighing all the real risks. How else can we expect to make the right choices. I've always been amazed that more activists don't have a thorough grounding in science -- what else could serve their cause better. Genuine, trained ecologists are often impassioned activists, but the converse is hardly as true.

Yes.

Exactly.

Especially that last bit.

Thanks, Orpheus.
"To know that you do not know is the best. To act from the pretense that you know when you do not know is a disease" - Lao Tzu

"From All, One; and From One, All" - Heraclitus

"Let me be clear: however the world's goblet turns there will always be those drunk on the wine of the Self" - Ghalib

"A 'politically savvy challenge to evolution' is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be." - Charles Pierce

#19 D.Rabbit

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Posted 01 January 2005 - 01:12 AM

Hello,
I'm happy to see Christopher in this thread for his knowledge in all things Science is a wonderful reason to post here.

Looks like this thread is crossing the gamut of what ails us. Except the hole in the ozone layer.
I experience it more than most of the denizens of the south. The hole, I can relate to most intimately. Not as life/sight threatening as the farther reaches of the poles.

I have luck on my side, if one has any type of herpes, mine is simplex. It has not made an appearance on my being in 8 years, however, it's a handy bug to be hibernating in my system. Studies have shown that those who have herpes rarely suffer from the effects of the UV rays that cause melanomas.  This does me little good. The sun will scorch your skin off in a matter of minutes a midday. I definitely can feel the difference in the sun since I have run an out door flea market/recycle center for over 17 years. I not only feel the problem I can see it in my tarps. UV resistant 8mm clear that should last for years are fractured after only a summer if not sooner.
Are we going to have to mutate to accommodate "climate" changes and ozone depletion.
Isn't that what evolution is all about? Mutating to survive the ever changing "climate."

I heard on another board that our glut on fossil fuels is not the cause of the "hole," so this is where my jubilation of Christopher's presents starts to beam.
If you would clarify for me this comment please.
Fact or propaganda? ;)

Light bulb went off!
Perhaps I should change the grim reaper in this gif to Darwin?

Lea
Hi, when I saw your name I was hoping you would post some mention of your research on the effects of acid rain on the vegetation of Europe? Have you already made comment? Is there a link you could post for me to view please?

D. Heading into the tub, which means, I'll probably be back.
7 verses I know you're there behind the veil.

#20 tennyson

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Posted 01 January 2005 - 01:36 AM

The hole in the ozone and global warming aren't connected in any meaningful way. CFCs(chlroflurocarbons) and other related halide compounds are what have been eating at the ozone layer and they are only produced by a few dedicated insustrial processes and not by the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The only places where the two problems even meet would be a plant using fossil fuels as either feedstock or power to make CFCs and that some halide compounds are better greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. But they haven't been manufactured in enough quanities to even have a measureable effect in comparison to carbon dioxide emission and their production has been baned in most of the developed world for in some case decades. I thought I saw something about recent reesearch that indicated that the ozone layer was  going to be healing after the dip due to the now banned CFC production.
"Only an idiot would fight a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Idiots would fight a war on twelve fronts."

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